Five major US carriers will sell the new Moto X when it comes out later this year, but those who want a truly pure and unlocked version of Motorola's latest will be glad to hear that Google will be selling the device as well. Yes, there will be a Google Play edition of the Moto X. Like the Google Play editions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One before it, Moto X devices bought directly from Google will be unlocked and will run a completely stock version of Android. Perhaps most importantly, the Google Play edition of the Moto X will get updates before models purchased directly from a carrier.
Considering the Moto X is the first Motorola phone built and designed entirely under Google's watch, many may be wondering why a Google Play edition of the Moto X is even necessary. After all, the device doesn't use a skin like the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that carriers aren't tinkering with versions of the smartphone that they sell. The Verizon Wireless Moto X, for example, is pre-loaded with a number of apps, including NFL Mobile, VZ Navigator, Verizon Tones, a voicemail app, a caller ID app, and a setup wizard. The device also has a Verizon Wireless logo on the back, and the phone checks with the carrier to see if tethering is enabled on your account before letting you share your internet connection.
If you buy a Moto X from a carrier you'll have to deal with some bloatware
These minor tweaks to the Moto X's software mean that models purchased directly through AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, or US Cellular will only receive Android updates once the carrier modifies and approves them. It shouldn't take long to do, but carriers have a bad track record. The last update for the Verizon Wireless Galaxy Nexus, for instance, arrived five months after the unlocked version of the device was updated. Considering the Moto X is launching with Android 4.2.2 and not Android 4.3, which was released last week, delayed updates are something to be concerned about.
Neither Google nor Motorola have revealed how much the Google Play edition of the Moto X will cost, or when it will be available. The best we've heard so far is that it will go on sale "soon." It's likely that only the 16GB version of the device will be available from Google, and it's unclear whether customers will be able to customize the phone. At launch, only AT&T customers will get to choose the color of the front and rear of the phone, as well as the color of the power button, volume keys, and camera ring, according to a press release from the carrier. We also don't know if Motorola's few software customizations in the Moto X — like Active Notifications and gesture controls — will be included. Lastly, if prior Google Play edition phones are anything to go by, Moto X models purchased directly from Google will likely only work with AT&T and T-Mobile in the US.
Update: AT&T says that the full off-contract retail price for the 16GB and 32GB Moto X will be $575 and $630, respectively. (It's worth noting that AT&T phones bought at full retail price are still locked to the carrier.) That pricing could hint to how much the Google Play edition will cost, but we may see a pricing scheme similar to the Nexus 4. When sold unlocked directly through Google Play, the 16GB Nexus 4 cost $349, while an on-contract model from T-Mobile cost $199. Meanwhile, the carrier set the full retail price of the Nexus 4 at $499 — inexplicably more than the unlocked price of the phone from Google itself. If Google and Motorola took that route, it could explain some of the rumors prior to today that said the Moto X would cost around $299 unlocked.